As I began preparing for fall classes I realized that I was far overdue to reflect on the Spring 2014 semester and my First Year Seminar: From the Walking Dead to Superheroes. I will do so using the ProfHacker 3×3 method I’ve used so much in the past because it is just so handy! However, it is strange to reflect on events that seem so long ago. It has been an eventful and stressful summer.
I continue to love this class theme (as I reported in “Embracing Zombies” after teaching it for the first time in the Fall 2014 semester). It offers so much room for having fun while talking, reflecting, and writing about interesting and important topics and I’m super excited to start all over again in a few weeks – so excited I’ve already begun preparing materials such as this Blendspace introducing the class! I have grown to be a fan of the First Year Seminar concept as well. I really like this work and the other faculty and staff doing it.
What Worked Well
My colleague Jared Salyers (along with the Peer Writers supporting our classes) developed a new assignment we called Paper Trails to replace the traditional annotated bibliography. While I will continue to refine the assignment (my plan is to make it more collaborative and use it to build a class resource list this semester), overall I was pleased with the assignment and the scaffolding it provided for students as they prepared for their comic research projects.
Using badges to assess student blog posts was also a success. Not only did it make grading blog participation super easy, it actually turned into a meaningful reflective exercise for the students as well. I read a blog post this summer (sorry, can’t find the link!) about using Google forms to make this process easier (tracking student blog posts) and I look forward to trying that as well.
We wrapped up the semester with the Group Learning Document assignment during which we crowd-sourced a First Year Handbook. It was an easy assignment to wrap up the semester and I was pleased with the project, but thinking about how to make it even more meaningful has inspired a big change in my plan for the class this Fall.
And Not So Much
This was my first time teaching a face-to-face class in a long time so I struggled a bit with pacing and had some time management problems, but the class was also challenged because at least half of the students were in the class because they had been placed there to overcome some reading and writing challenges and then you mix in some students who were repeating FYS. As a result of these two factors, we had a very high rate of attrition (I would have taken it more personally if Jared hadn’t experienced the same problem with his section of the class and I hadn’t heard of similar problems with other Spring FYS sections which didn’t include our specific population of at-risk students). Whatever the reason (me, the students, probably some combination of the two), we did not build as cohesive and successful a community as I’d come to expect from my online classes. The Peer Writers reported a similar experience. We will work on this in the Fall semester – first by starting slower and building community first and second by using technology to create teams (I read a great blog post about this over the summer and now can’t find the link for it either, sorry!).
As a result of the above problem, student motivation was a much bigger problem in the Spring semester, but I believe attending to community and building collaborative, supportive teams will go a long way to helping with that problem. I also have one other idea which I will share in the next section.
Perhaps because of this particular population, many students struggling with college level skills in many areas, some students did not delve as deeply below the surface as I would have liked. I will address this using both the paper trails and reflection assignments. I also think more collaboration will help push students out of their comfort zones as well.
I plan to make this class a service-learning class. I have already partnered with a middle school teacher and my students will now create their group learning document assignment and possibly their comic projects (or some combination of the two – still working out the details here) specifically for that audience. My students and the middle school students will introduce each other and get to know each other a bit before my students deliver their projects (electronically). I’m pretty excited about the possibilities that this offers to both give my students meaningful work (that also challenges them to think about their own goals) and the middle school students a glimpse into college life and work.
As a result of this change, I also think I can integrate the two purposes of FYS (introducing college and exploring a theme) more tightly than I did my first year teaching the class. I think this will also help address some of the challenges and problems I faced last year.
Finally, I am making the face-to-face version of this class (as well as my professional writing class) BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). I taught this class in a computer classroom in the Spring and online in the Fall, but there would be no computer lab available to me in the Fall (at least not a convenient one) and then I decided to embrace the challenge as an opportunity. Once I started thinking about it, I decided this could be the best decision I ever made…stay tuned! My students have consistently reported that I effectively use technology in the classroom so this will be the test!
I am pumped about this semester and can’t wait to get back into the classroom (although I still have tons of prep to do!).
Note: All my Spring semester students (those who finished the class and completed the course evaluation), reported that they were glad that they took the class. Most enjoyed it and reported that they learned from the experience. They felt more strongly about me than the class itself (all reported that I was an excellent teacher and would recommend me while most would recommend the class to others).